The GoPro Survival Guide

Posted by on Jan 13, 2017 in How To, Tech | One Comment

I love my GoPro’s, all 5 of them. I currently own 1x Hero1, 2x Hero2, 1x Hero3, and 1x Hero4. Perhaps a Hero 5 is even on the horizon.

Yes, I am an addict. Here’s the happy family below:

They have been faithful, reliable companions to me during my travels and have proven themselves time and time again.

For the uninitiated, GoPro cameras are some of the most versatile recording devices available. They pack an enormous amount of technology into a very small package, are water proof, bomb-proof, and at a price point (at least compared to other camera gear) that is manageable. The massive range of accessories for these cameras also means that no matter what type of action sport or adventure you choose to do, there will be plenty of solutions for mounting, ensuring you don’t miss a single moment.

Definitely one of their biggest advantages however, is that they are durable, lightweight and highly portable. Did I mention these little buggers are durable? My original Hero1 has been through the ringer: tossed around, beaten, thrown off cliffs, driven over by ATVs, taken underwater, placed in subzero temperatures (it visited Antarctica), and… it still works!

Despite their rampant prevalence, I have been getting a lot of questions lately about how to operate them, their settings, which model to choose, and accessory options. This guide will subjectively go over my thoughts on these topics as well as provide a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years. Onwards…

Are They Difficult To Use?

There was a time when they were difficult to use. The original GoPro Hero1, and even Hero2 had awful interfaces and were not user friendly. Luckily, GoPro has made tremendous strides in this department and their newest models are simple and intuitive. My Hero 4 has three buttons on it; it’s not rocket science. The newest model, the Hero 5 Black has one button on it and has adopted an easy touch screen interface.

Which One Is Right For Me?

Ahh… the million dollar question. Officially, GoPro only sells three models on their website right now: the ‘Hero 5 Black’, ‘Hero 5 Session’ & ‘Hero Session.’ If you look elsewhere and don’t mind older models, there’s a huge variety to choose from.

Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat- I wouldn’t recommend anything before the GoPro Hero 4 line. The Hero1 and Hero2 are dated, janky and feature archaic menu systems that are difficult to navigate. The Hero3, although good, has been eclipsed by its older more mature brothers in features and imaging.

This leaves us with the Hero 4 line (great cameras), and the (even better) Hero 5 line. So what’s the difference?

The GoPro Hero4 came in two models, the Silver and Black, and were targeted to different user groups. The Hero4 Black was the first GoPro capable of shooting 4K video at a full 30 frames per second, and 1080P HD footage at 120 frames per second, making it ideal for production companies and other professional users. The Hero4 Silver had slightly watered down specs compared to its older brother, topping out at 2K footage at 30 frames per second. Despite this, it introduced a touchscreen making it easier for beginners to frame shots and navigate settings.

Enter the Hero5- the love child of both of these cameras. It captures 4K footage at up to 30 frames per second like the Black, while also incorporating the Hero4 Silver’s touchscreen. A lot of other improvements are quality of life additions: it got an overhauled interface, the aforementioned touch screen on the back, and it lost the classic exterior plastic housing that all previous generations have included. It’s now waterproof up to 30ft. Beyond that you need to grab additional waterproof housing, sold separately of course.

One new standout upgrade is the new image stabilization in the Hero5 line; the Hero4 has no stabilization to speak of. The days of that awful ‘jello effect’ are being brought under control. Check out the video below to see for yourself. (not my video)

Lastly, the Hero5 can utilize voice commands. This is a welcome feature. Many times GoPros are mounted to obscure or tough to reach spots- this will make it far easier to control them efficiently.

The Hero Session line: These are more simplistic single button cameras that are significantly smaller, cheaper and more portable than their Silver/Black cousins. The name of the game is set it and forget it (not always a bad thing). They’ll do in a pinch and are great if you’re not worried about adjusting settings on your image or are on a budget. [seen below on the left and right]

Bottom line: You’ll have to come to your own conclusions on which camera is best for you. I would recommend if you have the money go for the Hero5 line, specifically the Black. It’s got all the bells and whistles and will allow you to tinker with your image, unlike the Sessions. If you still want many of the features but at a lower price point, the Hero4 Black is still a wicked camera and one I continue to use religiously on all my travels. I’m very happy with it. If you don’t care about 4k and are price conscious, you can’t beat the Hero4 Silver. Ask yourself what’s important and think about how you will use the camera. Luckily, it’s a win-win-win situation- all of them are very capable cameras and a blast to use.

Mandatory Accessories

This is a subjective question and largely depends on what you’re using your GoPro for. I have found over the last decade that the accessories I use the most are:

  • Head mount: Whether you actually put it on your head or just use the strap to lash the GoPro to your hand (I do both, situation depending), the head mount is incredibly useful and versatile.
  • Suction Car Mount: I’ve lost count how many times I’ve used this. Great accessory. In all my experiences I’ve only had it fall off once! It happened on a highway in Southern France. The GoPro, although slightly scratched lived to see another day. Lesson learned: Clean the surface prior to mounting for better suction.
  • Gorilla Pod: Although not an official GoPro accessory it’s oh so useful. Gorilla Pods offer you the ability to attach to almost anything. (Great for timelapses) I’ve used them extensively around the world.
  • Floaty Backdoor: This is the orange foam that attaches to the exterior plastic housing of the GoPro enabling it to float. Frankly this is mandatory if you’re going in or near the water. The last thing you want to do is drop your $400 camera into the blue… and yes, they do sink like rocks sans the floaty backdoor.

Waterproof housing*: If you have a Hero5, get the waterproof housing. All of the previous generations come standard with it, but not the Hero5. The stock camera is waterproof up to 30 ft out of the box, but damn, don’t take any chances with a $400 camera. Suit up! With the housing you can go up to 196ft (60m).

  • Bonus: Egg Timer: Attach your GoPro to the top of an egg timer to get unique looking time-lapse video that moves. I’ve had some very pleasant results from this in the past. You can find a number of purpose built ones online, like in the image below.

GoPro has literally made an accessory/mounting solution for everything. The sky is the limit. If you’re budget conscious, there are some crazy mega packs on Amazon that offer replica knock offs of all the major GoPro accessories for incredibly cheap prices. I can’t speak to their quality, but the bang for buck is huge.

Care Tips

GoPros have to deal with a lot of punishment! Take care of them. My dear father has breached 3 waterproof cameras (not GoPros, but still) due to improper maintenance. Expensive!

Some no-brainer tips to maintaining them:

  • Rinse off the salt water after use. This goes without saying, but a lot of people don’t do this. After using it in the ocean rinse your GoPro housing off using fresh water. Salt is corrosive and will rust / beat down the seals on your housing, possibly leading to future breaches.
  • Clean the seals periodically to prevent breaches. Mud, dirt and sand particles will get everywhere, including the seals of your GoPro. Take some time to clean the seals off after your adventures. You’d be surprised at the damage a few grains of sands can cause.
  • Buy a protective case. Get a case to protect your housing and lens when not in use or when travelling; no one’s got time for scratches or dings.
  • Take care of your lens. This is true for all cameras, but get some lens cloth and cleaning solution to keep your lens in tip top shape.

Pitfalls

GoPros, for all of their awesomeness, do have some drawbacks.

  • Poor audio: You’re not buying these cameras for their audio capabilities. They are rough and tumble action cams built for video, with audio tacked on. Although there are external microphone solutions, that’s beyond the scope of this article. Buy them for the video and expect generally poor results for audio.
  • They typically have poor battery life: This largely depends on your settings, but expect anywhere from 40 minutes to 2 hours depending on how you’re using the camera. Anecdote: I climbed Mt. Rainier last year (the tallest mountain in Washington State, 14,400ft) and brought my GoPro Hero 4 Black. We had harsh, cold, winter conditions. The batteries were fully charged and I got about 20-25 minutes of juice from them in the -2 degree Celsius weather while shooting 4k. (The temperature was definitely colder due to windchill, but officially -2C) Lesson learned: bring lots of spares batteries and expect sub-optimal results in cold weather!
  • No LCD Screen: Many of the older models (and all Session models) do not have LCD screens on them. This means you are shooting blind for most video. Although this sounds like an awful thing, I’ve never really found it an issue. The camera field of view is so wide on GoPros, that as long as you are pointing the camera in the general direction of your subject you will capture it. That being said, the LCD is a nice add on. For older models that do not have it, you can buy an attachment that adds it or simply use the wifi to connect to your smartphone.

Final Thoughts:

I love GoPros. They are synonymous with action, adventure, freedom and holiday videos.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this brand and their technology continuously grow and improve over the years; the difference between the Hero1 and Hero5 is stark. With their current feature set, image quality and ease of use, I’m happy to say this is the best and most accessible they’ve ever been. If you’re thinking of jumping in and getting one, I wholeheartedly recommend them.

I hope this article shed a little light on the world of GoPros for you.

Happy shooting!

  • Chris

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